Old Testament Types and Symbols

Gerald N. Lund

Gerald N. Lund, “Old Testament Types and Symbols,” inLiterature of Belief: Sacred Scripture and Religious Experience, ed. Neal E. Lambert (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1981), 39–60.

An employee of the Church Educational System of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the past fifteen years when this was published, Gerald N. Lund served as director of its college curriculum department. Author of two books, The Coming of the Lord and This Is Your World, he graduated from Brigham Young University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology and has also been involved, at various times, with preparing curriculum material for adult Sunday School classes.

His interest in typology stems from teaching a class on the book of Revelation in the institute system some years ago. In this paper, he reevaluates the commonly held idea that the religion of the Old Testament was a primitive or even semipagan system. Modern revelation asserts that Israel had “the preparatory gospel” and Gerald Lund specifies in three areas—ordinances, festivals, and historical events—some of the ways in which this preparatory gospel mirrored the dominant image of Christ as faithfully as the “fulness” restored to Joseph Smith. In addition to giving some useful guidelines for the beginning student on how to tell if a given event should be interpreted typologically, the author selects examples from the rich treasury of the Old Testament that will arouse curiosity and desire for further investigation on the part of anyone who has read through the Old Testament in mingled bewilderment, excitement, and challenge.

This paper was originally delivered at the Third Annual Church Educational System Religious Educators’ Symposium on the Old Testament at Brigham Young University August 16–18, 1979, and is printed in A Symposium on the Old Testament, August 16, 17 and 18, 1979 (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979), 182–93.

Many in the world and even some in the Church think of the Old Testament as reflecting a pregospel culture centered around the Mosaic covenant which was given in place of the gospel laws. And it is true that the Israelites, when they rejected the higher law, were given a lesser law. But note what the Lord said about it: “And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel; which gospel is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and of the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments” (D&C 84:26–27; italics added). They did not receive the fulness of the gospel but they did receive a preparatory gospel, dealing with the basic principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Paul taught the Galatian Saints, this was done so that they could be brought to Christ: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:24–25).

In short, the Old Testament is not pregospel but primary gospel; and we can expect that the Old Testament, especially in its types and symbols, will richly reflect that gospel, the gospel of preparation for faith in Christ. It can be a preparation of value to every person including those who have access to, though possibly not complete understanding of, the fulness of the gospel. Therefore, as Elder Bruce R. McConkie suggests, “It is wholesome and proper to look for similitudes of Christ everywhere and to use them repeatedly in keeping him and his laws uppermost in our minds.” [1]

When is an act or object recorded in scripture to be taken literally and when should it be interpreted figuratively? Symbols can be taken too literally and their true meaning lost in a grotesque parody of reality. On the other hand, sometimes one can explain away the actual meaning of a passage by saying it is only figurative. The following guidelines may be helpful as one tries to decide how to interpret correctly the symbols used in the Old Testament:

1. Look beyond the symbol for its intended meaning.

2. Look for the interpretation of the symbol in the scriptures themselves.

3. Look for Christ in the symbols and imagery of the scriptures.

4. Let the nature of the object used as a symbol contribute to your understanding of its spiritual meaning.

5. Seek the reality behind the symbol. One author used this interesting analogy:

The most perfect representation of a steam-engine to a South-sea savage would be wholly and hopelessly unintelligible to him, simply because the reality, the outline of which was presented to him, was something hitherto unknown. But let the same drawing be shewn to those who have seen the reality, such will have no difficulty in explaining the representation. And the greater the acquaintance with the reality, the greater will be the ability to explain the picture. The savage who had never seen the steam-engine would of course know nothing whatever about it. Those who had seen an engine but know nothing of its principles, though they might tell the general object of the drawing, could not explain the details. But the engineer, to whom every screw and bolt are familiar, to whom the use and the object of each part is thoroughly known, would not only point out where each of these was to be found in the picture, but would shew what others might overlook, how in different engines these might be made to differ. [2]

The reality behind the Old Testament is Jesus Christ and his teachings of salvation. The better we understand him, the more clearly we will see the meaning of the symbols.

The preliminary exploration of Old Testament types and symbols which follows deals with three areas: ordinances, festivals, and historical events. Of course, space does not permit more than a sampling of the full range of symbols available in the Mosaic covenant.


Sacrifices and offerings. Sacrifices and offerings represent the very center of the Mosaic law. Though they varied in the manner of offering, the requirements, the item offered, and the time of offering, all of the sacrifices and offerings had three general things in common: an offerer, the offering, and the priesthood. Adam was taught that the law of sacrifice was instituted as “a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father” (Moses 5:7). The similitude of Christ’s sacrifice carries through all three aspects. One author explained the typology of all three aspects in this manner:

What, then, is the offering! what the priest! what the offerer! Christ is the offering, Christ is the priest, Christ is the offerer. Such and so manifold are the relations in which Christ has stood for man and to man, that no one type or set of types can adequately represent the fulness of them. . . . As man under the law, our substitute, Christ stood for us towards God as offerer. . . . Thus His body was His offering: he willingly offered it; and then as priest He took the blood into the holiest. As offerer, we see Him man under the law, standing our substitute, for us to fulfil all righteousness. As priest, we have Him presented as the mediator, God’s messenger between Himself and Israel. While as the offering He is seen the innocent victim, a sweet savour to God, yet bearing the sin and dying for it. [3]

Nephi taught that we are to follow the example of the Son of God (see 2 Ne. 31:10, 12–13, 16). Jesus asked, “What manner of men ought ye to be?” and then answered his own question by saying, “Even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27). If Christ becomes our model for living, then in the three aspects of the law of the offerings, we too should be typified. In other words, just as all three objects and persons involved in the sacrifices were types of him, they should also serve as types of us. Thus, the offering becomes a type or symbol of our lives, our acts, our works, our being—our all—offered to God on the altar so that it becomes a sweet-smelling savor to him. The Saints are to become “kings and priests,” or as Peter said, “a royal priesthood” (Rev. 1:6; 1 Pet. 2:9). Further, like Jesus they are to become the saviors of men by sharing the principles of his teachings and sacrifice with others (see D&C 103:9–10). In this manner they are typified by the priest. And the offerer also typifies us as well as Christ, for, like him, we must willingly yield ourselves to come into the proper relationship with God. [4]

Circumcision. Abraham was specifically commanded by the Lord to institute circumcision upon himself and all the males of his household as a token of the covenant made with God (see Gen. 17:9–14). In the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible of this passage, we learn that circumcision was instituted as a token of the covenant; but the token was given because the people were in a state of apostasy, had lost sight of the true meaning of the ordinance of baptism, and were washing their children and sprinkling them with blood so that they would be free from sin. Circumcision reminded the people that while children were born in the covenant they were not to be held accountable until they were eight years of age (see JST, Gen. 17:4–11).

Other scriptures provide additional clarification that it was not circumcision itself but what it stood for that gave it its greatest significance. In many places the Lord speaks of the true circumcision as being that of the heart or, in other words, loving God and being obedient to the Spirit. The “uncircumcised of heart” are the wicked, proud, and rebellious (see Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; Ezek. 44:7; Acts 7:51; Rom. 2:25–29; Col. 2:11). Though a person may have the token of circumcision in the flesh, unless he is righteous the covenant is invalidated and the circumcision becomes profitless. Thus, circumcision was only a sign or token of what needed to happen to the inward man. If the inward change had not taken place, then circumcision was virtually meaningless. Following the atonement of Christ, the token of circumcision was no longer required of God’s covenant people since it was replaced by baptism, the symbol of Christ’s own death and resurrection (see Jer. 9:25–26; Acts 15:22–29; 1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:1–6; 6:12–15; Phil. 3:3–4).

The Abrahamic covenant makes frequent reference to one’s seed, as for example, Genesis 17:6–12. The organ of the male body that produces seed and helps bring about physical birth is the very part of the body which bears the token of the covenant. However, the organ of spiritual rebirth is the heart (see 3 Ne. 9:20). Thus, when a person was circumcised it signified that he, like a child, was born into the covenant but need not be baptized until he became accountable before the Lord. But spiritual circumcision, or the circumcision of the heart, must take place once one becomes accountable, or one is not considered as true Israel. As Paul said so aptly, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28–29).

Cleansing of the leper. In Leviticus 14 we have a detailed description of the ritual that was to take place when a person’s leprosy had been healed. Because of the nature of the ritual, many people have seen it as a primitive, superstitious, and abhorrent rite which makes the Israelites barely more than pagan. However, when we apply our guidelines for interpreting symbols, we find that the ritual is a beautiful representation of gospel truths. This case is worth examining in some detail in its twelve major aspects:

1. The leper. Leprosy in its various forms was a loathsome disease that involved decay and putrefaction of the living body; it required the sufferer to be ostracized and cut off from any fellowship with the rest of the house of Israel. Because of these characteristics, leprosy was also an appropriate type or symbol of what happens to a man spiritually when he sins. Sin introduces decay and corruption into the spiritual realm as leprosy does into the physical. Also, a sinful person was cut off from fellowship with spiritual Israel and could not be part of the Lord’s covenant people. So the leper himself provided a type or similitude of what King Benjamin called the “natural man” (see Mosiah 3:19).

2. The priest. The priest served as the official representative of the Lord, authorized to cleanse the leper and bring him back into full fellowship. As we have seen earlier, the priest was also a type of Christ.

3. The birds. The birds symbolized the candidate. Because of the two truths to be taught, two birds were required. The first bird was killed by the shedding of its blood, signifying that the leper (the natural man) had to give up his life. The second bird, after being bound together with other symbols, was released, signifying that the man had been freed from the bondage of sin.

4. The cedar wood. The cedar wood is still used today because of its ability to preserve surrounding objects from decay and corruption; its meaning is obvious.

5. The scarlet wool. The word scarlet (Lev. 14:4) really meant a piece of wool dyed bright red, a reminder of blood, which is the symbol of life and also of atonement (see Lev. 17:11).

6. The hyssop. Though we are not sure exactly why, we do know that in Old Testament times the herb hyssop was associated with purification (see Exod. 12:22; Ps. 51:7; Heb. 9:19).

7. The basin of water. Notice that the blood of the bird was mixed with water. In Moses 6:59 we learn that blood and water are the symbols of birth, both physical and spiritual. Also, we know that the baptismal font, the place of spiritual rebirth, symbolizes the place where the natural man is put to death (see Rom. 6:1–6; D&C 128:12–13). Over the basin of water the first bird was killed, symbolizing the death of the natural man and the eventual rebirth of the spiritually innocent person. The release of the second bird symbolized the release of the man from the bondage of sin.

8. The washing of the leper. Both physically and spiritually, the washing was a symbol of cleansing.

9. The shaving of the hair. This act, including even the eyebrows, would make a person look very much like a newborn infant, who is typically virtually without hair. Thus, after going through the process of rebirth symbolically, the candidate graphically demonstrated on his own person that he was newborn spiritually.

10. The sacrifice of the lamb. The typology of the sacrifice of the lamb is clear, since the lamb offered had to be the firstborn male without spot or blemish. It symbolized the offering of the Son of God himself.

11. The smearing of the blood on the parts of the body. In Hebrew the word which is usually translated atonement literally means “to cover.” Thus, when the priest touched something with the blood, his action suggested the sanctification of, or atonement made for, that thing. In this case we find the blood of the lamb sanctifying the organ of hearing or obedience (the ear), the organ of action (the hand), and the organ of following or walking in the proper way (the foot). Thus, every aspect of the person’s life was touched and affected by the atonement of Christ.

12. The oil. “The olive tree from the earliest times has been the emblem of peace and purity.” [5] Modern revelation further instructs us that olive oil symbolizes the Holy Ghost (see D&C 45:55–57). To touch with oil suggests the effect of the Spirit on the same organs of living and acting that had previously been cleansed by the blood of Christ. Thus, every aspect of the candidate’s life was purified and sanctified by both the Atonement and the Holy Ghost.

Feasts and Festivals

Special holidays and festivals were a common part of everyday life during biblical times. Moreover, unlike modern times, most of the feasts and festivals had religious significance and were an inseparable part of worship.

The Sabbath. Certainly the most frequent festival among the Hebrews was the weekly day of rest, instituted in similitude of what God had done during the creation of the earth when, we are told, the Lord “sanctified” the Sabbath and rested (Gen. 2:2–3).

In Exodus 31:13 the Lord revealed the basic key to understanding the significance of the Sabbath: “Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you” (italics added). In other words, the Sabbath is the day that man ceases his labors so that God can work his own work—the work of sanctification—on man. The requirement of a sabbatical year, that the land be left untilled, required man to exercise tremendous faith in God’s ability to sustain his people both temporally and spiritually (see Lev. 25:1–7, 18–22). The promises for those who keep the Sabbath are beautifully outlined by Isaiah and in modern revelation (see Isa. 58:13–14; D&C 59:9–24).

The Feast of the Passover. Passover (which included the Feast of Unleavened Bread) was one of the festivals which most clearly offered typologies of Christ and his atoning sacrifice. (See “Actual Historical Events,” below.)

The Feast of Weeks. On the fiftieth day after Passover (a period of seven weeks of seven days, or a sabbath of weeks) a second major festival was held, though it lasted only one day. Christians are more familiar with this feast by its Greek title, Pentecost, which means “fiftieth.” Elder McConkie explains in detail its important typology:

It is not without significance that the Lord chose the Pentecost, which grew out of the final Passover, as the occasion to dramatize forever the fulfillment of all that was involved in the sacrificial fires of the past. Fire is a cleansing agent. Filth and disease die in its flames. The baptism of fire, which John promised Christ would bring, means that when men receive the actual companionship of the Holy Spirit, then evil and iniquity are burned out of their souls as though by fire. The sanctifying power of that member of the Godhead makes them clean. In similar imagery, all the fires on all the altars of the past, as they burned the flesh of animals, were signifying that spiritual purification would come by the Holy Ghost, whom the Father would send because of the Son. On that first Pentecost of the so-called Christian Era such fires would have performed their purifying symbolism if the old order had still prevailed. How fitting it was instead for the Lord to choose that very day to send living fire from heaven, as it were, fire that would dwell in the hearts of men and replace forever all the fires on all the altars of the past. And so it was that “when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:1–4). [6]

The Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement, which took place each autumn, was the most sacred and solemn of all Israelite festivals. In it, the typology or symbolism of Christ’s work for Israel fairly shines. A day of national fasting, it signified that the sins of Israel had been atoned for and that the nation and its people were restored to fellowship with God. The feast included the following major items as detailed in Leviticus 16:

1. The high priest had to go through meticulous preparation to be worthy to act as officiator for the rest of the house of Israel. He made sacrifices for himself and his house, as well as washing various objects in the tabernacle and purifying them through the sprinkling of sacrificial blood.

2. The high priest put off the official robes he normally wore and clothed himself in simple, white linen garments, signifying “the righteousness of the saints” (Rev. 19:8).

3. Two goats were chosen by lot. One was designated as the goat of the Lord, and one was designated as the scapegoat or, in Hebrew, the goat of Azazel. The goat of Jehovah was offered as a sin offering, and the high priest took its blood into the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle and sprinkled it on the lid of the ark of the covenant (called the “mercy seat”), thus making atonement for the sins of Israel.

4. The other goat, Azazel, was brought before the high priest, who laid his hands upon its head and symbolically transferred all of the sins of Israel to it. Then it was taken out into the wilderness and released where it would never be seen again. Commentators explain the significance of Azazel by saying that it represented “the devil himself, the head of the fallen angels, who was afterwards called Satan; for no subordinate evil spirit could have been placed in antithesis to Jehovah as Azazel is here, but only the ruler or head of the kingdom of demons.” [7]

The apostle Paul in the book of Hebrews drew heavily on the typology of the Day of Atonement to teach the mission of Christ. In that epistle he pointed out that Christ is the great “High Priest” who, unlike the high priest of the Aaronic Priesthood, was holy and without spot and did not need to make atonement for his own sins before he could be worthy to officiate for Israel and enter the Holy of Holies (Heb. 3:1; 7:26–27). His perfect life was the ultimate fulfillment of the symbol of wearing white garments.

Furthermore, the true tabernacle (or temple, or house of the Lord) in which the priest officiated is in heaven, and the earthly tabernacle made by Moses was a “shadow” or type of the “heavenly” one (Heb. 8:2–5; 9:1–9).

Christ, as Lamb of Jehovah as well as High Priest, shed his own blood to enter the heavenly Holy of Holies where that blood ransomed from their sins those who would believe in him and obey his commandments (see Heb. 9:11–14; 24–28; 10:11–22; D&C 45:3–5).

The Feast of Tabernacles. The third of the national feasts requiring the attendance of all males was the Feast of Tabernacles (Hebrew Sukkoth), which took place five days after the Day of Atonement. It was a celebration of the completion of the harvest and was a time of great joy and thanksgiving. During the week of the festival, Israel was required to live in homemade tabernacles rather than in their homes, a reminder that they had dwelt in tents or tabernacles (King James booth) when the Lord brought them out of Egypt (see Lev. 23:42–43).

Elder McConkie points out that this will be the only Mosaic feast reinstituted in this gospel dispensation:

In the full sense, it is the Feast of Jehovah, the one Mosaic celebration which, as part of the restitution of all things, shall be restored when Jehovah comes to reign personally upon the earth for a thousand years. Even now we perform one of its chief rituals in our solemn assemblies, the giving of the Hosanna Shout, and the worshipers of Jehovah shall yet be privileged to exult in other of its sacred rituals. . . . The fact that it celebrated the completion of the full harvest symbolizes the gospel reality that it is the mission of the house of Israel to gather all nations to Jehovah, a process that is now going forward, but will not be completed until that millennial day when “the Lord shall be king over all the earth,” and shall reign personally thereon. [8]

Actual Historical Events

Nephi taught that “all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of [Christ]” (2 Ne. 11:4). One cannot read far into the Old Testament without discovering that Nephi’s phrase, “all things,” even includes actual historical events. We know that God raises up men for special purposes and uses nations to bring about his will. He calls Assyria “the rod of mine anger” (Isa. 10:5–7), Cyrus of Persia the “anointed” of the Lord (Isa. 45:1), and Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom a gift from “the God of heaven” (Dan. 2:37). But many people do not look beyond that kind of direct intervention in historical events to see that the Lord may also influence events in such a way that they take on symbolic significance. This does not, of course, suggest that the events did not happen as described. Rather, it means that in the reality of the events we also find the Lord’s hand at work, giving history symbolical as well as historical significance.

The testing of Abraham. Most people immediately see the symbolism of the divine Father offering his only Son in Abraham’s test, but many miss the precision of detail which God used to show what he himself would have to do in the future with his own Son.

Abraham obviously was a type or similitude of the Father. Interestingly enough, his name, Abram, means “exalted father” and Abraham means “father of a great multitude” (Gen. 17:5).

Isaac was a type of the Son of God (see Jac. 4:5). Note that, like Jesus, he was the product of a miraculous birth. Though not the literal son of God, like Him Isaac was conceived through the intervention of God. Paul called Isaac “his [Abraham’s] only begotten son” when he referred to this event (Heb. 11:17).

Not only did the Lord ask Abraham to perform the act which would mirror his own future actions, but he also designated a specific place, Moriah—”upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of” (Gen. 22:2). Mount Moriah today is one of the three major hills of Jerusalem. The traditional site where Abraham offered Isaac is one occupied today by the Dome of the Rock, a beautiful Arab mosque. A few hundred yards to the north on that same hill system is another worldfamous site known as Gordon’s Calvary. Its Hebrew name was Golgotha. The specific location further strengthens the symbolism and echoes between the two sacrifices.

When they arrived at Moriah, the Genesis account says that Abraham “took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son” (Gen. 22:6). The Joseph Smith Translation is even more specific: “laid it upon his back” (JST, Gen. 22:7). Some have seen here a similarity to Christ’s carrying of the cross upon his shoulders on the way to the crucifixion. [9] Note also that both Christ and Isaac were “bound” (Gen. 22:9; Matt. 27:2).

One important aspect that is often overlooked is Isaac’s voluntary submission to Abraham. The Old Testament does not give us enough detail to determine exactly how old Isaac was at the time of this event, but it is very likely that he was an adult, since, immediately following the account of the sacrifice on Mount Moriah, we are told that Sarah dies at the age of 127 (see Gen. 23:1), which would have made Isaac thirty-seven at the time of her death. Even if this journey to Moriah had happened several years before her death, Isaac would have been in his thirties. But the exact age is not really important. What is significant is that Abraham was well over a hundred years old and Isaac, almost certainly no child, could have put up a fierce resistance had he chosen to do so. Instead, he submitted willingly to his father, as did the Savior.

Once the intended sacrifice had been accepted, Abraham named the place Jehovah-jireh, which the King James Version translates as “in the mount of the Lord it shall be seen” (Gen. 22:14). Adam Clarke, citing other scholars, says the proper translation should be “on this mount the Lord shall be seen.” Clarke then concludes: “From this it appears, that the sacrifice offered by Abraham was understood to be a representative one, and a tradition was kept up, that Jehovah should be seen in a sacrificial way on this mount. And this renders . . . more than probable . . . that Abraham offered Isaac on that very mountain, on which, in the fulness of time, Jesus suffered.” [10]

Two other scholars, C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, note not only the significance of the site for the sacrifice of Jesus himself, but also point out that it relates to the site of Solomon’s temple: “The place of sacrifice points with peculiar clearness [to] Mount Moriah, upon which under the legal economy all the typical sacrifices were offered to Jehovah; . . . that by this one true sacrifice the shadows of the typical sacrifices might be rendered both real and true.” [11]

The Exodus. In the events of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and its eventual return to the promised land, we see great and significant typology and many similitudes. This is true not only of the night of Passover but in subsequent events as well.

First, it should be noted that the very situation which led to the Exodus is a type of the children of God. Israel, the Lord’s chosen people, was in bondage to an evil power. Note how Egypt, like Babylon, is used as a symbol of the world or spiritual wickedness (see Rev. 11:8). Also note how frequently sin is compared to bondage and how consistently Satan’s power is acknowledged (see, for example, Rom. 6:12; 7:15; 2 Ne. 1:18; 2:29; 28:22–23; Alma 12:11; 34:35).

In spite of the great power demonstrated by Moses, again and again Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to let Israel go. Finally, in the spring, the time when all nature seems to be coming to life again, the Lord revealed to Moses the final steps they must take to be delivered from bondage. This remarkable event, known as Passover, involved numerous items, all of which have typological significance, especially when one remembers that Israel’s state of slavery was itself a type of our bondage to sin and Satan.

The Lord indicated that Israel’s calendar was to begin its cycle from this event and was to be the beginning of the year (see Exod. 12:2). Symbolically speaking, the deliverance from the bondage of sin marks a new beginning, a new time, a new life, as it were.

A lamb, chosen on the tenth day of the month, was sacrificed in the evening of the fourteenth day (see Exod. 12:3–6). The lamb’s typology is obvious. It had to be a male without any defects or blemishes. Each household in Israel was to take such a lamb, signifying that the coming deliverance from the angel of death applied to every household of the covenant.

Moses specified that each householder must place the blood on the door frame using the herb hyssop, a symbol of purification, as a brush or dauber (see Exod. 12:7). These instructions suggest two things: since the doorway to the home is the entry to be guarded if enemies are to be kept out, the blood not only kept out the angel of death (see Exod. 12:13), but also, the blood of the lamb on the lintels and sideposts would overshadow every entrance and exit of an individual—every thought, word, and action. Is this not related to the modern commandment that all of our ingoings and outgoings should be in the name of the Lord? (see D&C 109:17–18)

The family would then roast the entire lamb and consume it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Anything left of the lamb (the inedible parts, such as bones, feet, and so on) were to be burned with fire (see Exod. 12:10; also see Elder McConkie’s statement above on the significance of fire). As the Lamb of God gave himself wholly to be sacrificed for the sins of the world, so must the paschal lamb (from pesach, the Hebrew word for passover) be wholly consumed. When food is eaten, it goes into the body and literally becomes part of us, sustaining life and giving us strength. So with the atoning sacrifice of the Savior; it must be partaken of and absorbed entirely so as to provide spiritual life and strength.

The Jews saw the bitter herbs as a reminder of the bitterness of their bondage in Egypt. The unleavened bread has its own significance. Leaven is a symbol of corruption because of its tendency to spoil. Christ warned the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, defining it as the false teachings and the hypocrisy of these men (see Matt. 16:6–12; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1). Following the actual Passover, the Israelites were commanded to observe the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, not only abstaining from any leaven for seven days, but also purging it out of their houses (see Exod. 12:18–19). Knowing that leaven is a type or symbol of corruption helps us see the beauty of this requirement. After deliverance from death and bondage by the blood of the Lamb, we are to purge all wickedness, pride, and hypocrisy from our lives. Paul also drew on the typology of leaven to teach about Christ (see 1 Cor. 5:7–8).

The feast was to be eaten hastily, with loins girded, shoes on the feet (which was contrary to normal custom), and staff in hand (see Exod. 12:11). The typology here is quite obvious: when the Lord delivers us from the bondage of sin there must be no tarrying, no delay.

At midnight the angel of death smote all the firstborn of the land but “passed over” the houses of the children of Israel marked by the blood of the lamb (see Exod. 12:29). Our deliverance from the angel of spiritual death comes only when we have partaken of the “flesh and blood” of the Lamb of God and have metaphorically placed his blood on the doorposts of our lives so that it overshadows all we do. We note also that Pharaoh (the type of Satan) absolutely refused to let Israel go free. The only thing which changed his mind was the death of the firstborn son (see Exod. 12:30–32).

The symbolic significance of the Passover night is clear and beautiful, but that did not end the Lord’s teaching device. As noted above, he can influence history so that the events themselves take on the nature of a similitude and provide us with important symbols and types. Note the following events which became part of the Exodus experience.

At the command of the Lord, Moses stretched out his hand and the Red Sea parted, making a way for the Israelites to pass through the water and escape destruction (see Exod. 12:15–31). The only way any person can escape spiritual death and the bondage of sin is to demonstrate faith in Christ to the point of true repentance so that he can be “buried” in the waters of baptism and be born again by being drawn forth from those waters (see Rom. 6:1–6; John 3:3–5; Mosiah 27:24–25).

In the Exodus, the angel of God went before the Israelites in the form of a pillar of fire and smoke which overshadowed them by night and day (see Exod. 13:20–22; 14:19). Being baptized of water is not sufficient to save a person; he must also receive the Holy Ghost, whose influence and presence are symbolized, among other things, by fire and burning (see, for example, Acts 2:3–4; D&C 9:8–9). Receiving the Holy Ghost after baptism is likened unto being baptized by fire (see Matt. 3:11; 2 Ne. 31:17). As part of their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt, the Israelites were saved both by passing through the water and by being overshadowed by the fire (see 1 Cor. 10:1–4).

In the wilderness, the Israelites were sustained by the manna God sent forth, specifically called “bread from heaven” (Exod. 16:4). In the great “Bread of Life” sermon, Jesus pointedly taught that he was “the living bread which came down from heaven”; and John the Revelator promised certain faithful Saints that they could eat of “hidden manna” (John 6:51; Rev. 2:17).

In the wilderness, God provided Israel with his law and instructed Moses to build a tabernacle, or portable temple, so that the Lord could dwell in their midst (see Exod. 19–31). But rebellious Israel demanded that Aaron make them false gods to worship (see Exod. 32). For this and repeated rebellions, many Israelites were destroyed, a law of carnal commandments was given, and they were denied the full power of the priesthood (see D&C 84:24–27). Later, for further lack of faith, all adults but two were denied access to the promised land and made to wander in the wilderness for forty years (see Num. 14:30). Clearly, these events teach us that deliverance from the bondage of sin through baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost are not enough. We must maintain faith in the Lord and hearken to his commandments or lose the promised blessings. As Nephi taught, baptism is only the gate to the straight and narrow path, and we must “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ” if we are to achieve eternal life (2 Ne. 31:17–20).

In the wilderness of Zin, the Israelites ran out of water to drink and once again began to murmur to Moses. By command of the Lord, Moses and Aaron gathered the people before a rock, Moses smote it, water came forth, and Israel lived (see Exod. 17:1–7). At the well in Samaria, Jesus told the woman of the “living water” he could give, which, if partaken of, would become “a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). In the closing parable of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus likened his teachings to a rock. Moses and other Old Testament prophets called Jehovah the Rock of salvation (see, for example, Deut. 32:4, 15, 18; 2 Sam. 22:3, 47; Ps. 18:2, 31, 46). Thus we see that when Israel hungered they were fed the bread that came down from heaven and when they thirsted they received the waters of life from the Rock. Paul synthesized these events when he said, “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:1–4; italics added).

While wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites were also afflicted with a plague of fiery serpents, and many died. The Lord told Moses to make a brass serpent and place it on a pole so that if a person were bitten he could look upon the brass serpent and he would live (see Num. 21:6–9). How can one miss the typology of that event? The covenant people, wandering in the wilderness (notice the similarity to Lehi’s dream, 1 Ne. 8:4) because of rebellion were being bitten by serpents (a symbol for Satan) and were suffering death. To be saved, they looked to a figure lifted up on a pole and death was averted. Again, the evidence is clear that this event had more than mere historical coincidence (see John 3:14–15; 2 Ne. 25:25; Alma 33:19–21; Hel. 8:14–15).

Finally, the children of Israel crossed over Jordan and entered the promised land. Obviously, the ultimate promised land is the celestial kingdom, but one also enters a new land (or life) when he is born again through baptism (see Alma 37:45). With that in mind, notice the following interesting items associated with that event. The person who led Israel into the promised land was Joshua, whose Hebrew name is Yehoshua or Yeshua. When Greek became the dominant language of the Middle East, the name Yehoshua was transliterated into Hee-ay-sous, which in English became Jesus. But Jesus’ Hebrew name was Yehoshua or Joshua, which interestingly enough means “God is help” or “Jehovah saves.” Notice that twice in the New Testament the name Jesus is used when the speaker obviously means Joshua (see Acts 7:45; Heb. 4:8). So “Jesus” led Israel into the promised land.

Anyone who rebelled against the leadership of Joshua and refused to cross over Jordan was to “be put to death” (Josh. 1:18). Anyone who refuses to follow Jesus into the celestial kingdom will suffer some degree of spiritual death. That is, he will be separated from the presence of God.

Joshua called upon the people to “sanctify” themselves so they would be worthy to go into the promised land (Josh. 3:5). One must be sanctified, or cleansed from sin, in order to enter a new life with God.

The ark of the covenant, which symbolized the presence of Jehovah, went before the camp of Israel and led the way into the new land (see Josh. 3:11). Like the passing through the Red Sea, Israel again passed through the midst of the waters to enter the promised land (see Josh. 3:15–17). The Lord specifically connected the two events by asking that a memorial be built (see Josh. 4:20–24).

The crossing of Israel into the new land was done on the first day of Passover (see Josh. 4:19; Exod. 12:2–3), again invoking the typology of deliverance from bondage and death.

Once they entered into the promised land, Joshua was commanded to perform the ordinance of circumcision among the Israelites (see Josh. 5:2–7). While wandering in the wilderness, this token of the Abrahamic covenant had not been performed. Now that they had sanctified themselves and followed Jesus (seen in the types of Joshua and the ark of the covenant) into the promised land, they were once again the true covenant people and therefore the token was reinstituted.

Thus we see that while the Passover itself has great typological significance, in actuality the whole exodus from slavery to entry into the promised land provides a type or similitude of what must happen to each individual if he is to “[put] off the natural man and [becomel a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19).

One does not go to a great museum like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and fully explore its treasures in an hour or two. Similarly, one does not exhaust the typology of the Old Testament in so brief a presentation as this. A lifetime of exploration and pondering is required; the Lord revealed to what extent he has filled the treasure house when he said, “And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me” (Moses 6:63).


[1] The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 453.

[2] Andrew Jukes, The Law of the Offerings (1966; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1976), 14–15.

[3] Ibid., 44–45.

[4] For a more detailed discussion of the typology of Old Testament sacrifices and ordinances, see Richard D. Draper, “Sacrifice and Offerings: An Ordinance Given by Jehovah to Reveal Himself as the Christ,” A Symposium on the Old Testament, August 16–18, 1979 (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints, 1979), 71–78.

[5] Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 3:180; italics omitted.

[6] McConkie, Promised Messiah, 431–32.

[7] C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, “The Pentateuch, Three Volumes in One” (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973), 1 (The Third Book of Moses): 398.

[8] McConkie, Promised Messiah, 432–33.

[9] Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible . . . with Commentary and Critical Notes, 6 vols. (New York: N. Bangs and J. Emory, 1827–31), 1:134; John 19:17.

[10] Clarke, Holy Bible, 1:146.

[11] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1 (The First Book of Moses): 253, italics added.